Do you ever need to give advice? Using helping verbs well can help you suggest changes tactfully.
Making suggestions to patients or coworkers is an important part of the job for many health care professionals.
Teachers & supervisors also need to know how to suggest improvements without provoking resistance.
In fact, almost anyone who works with others needs to know how to use helping verbs in English.
They can help you make suggestions in a gentle, positive way, without hurting feelings.
Read the basic tips below. Then go to Practice Giving Advice to choose the best such verbs to complete a sample conversation. (These examples all use health care situations. It should be easy to adapt them to other circumstances, though.)
Go directly to a particular section for examples or practice:
Practice Giving Advice (link above-- a different page) has other ways to give advice. It also lets you practice using helping verbs in a nurse-patient conversation.
Here are some examples (with helping-- auxiliary-- verbs in italics). They're followed by a short explanation.
'Should' is the most common helping verb for suggesting what someone needs to do. (It has the same meaning as ‘ought to’—the idea that what’s suggested is best and the listener has good reason to do it.)
‘Could’ offers an idea for the listener to consider, but doesn’t ‘push’ it as the best. ‘Must’ means there are no options.
These verbs (should, ought to, could, and must, as well as would or will) do not change form the way most English verbs do. (They have no forms ending in –s, -ed, or –ing.)
They go before the main verb in a sentence. The main verb will also be in its infinitive form (without an –s, -ed, or –ing ending.)
There are times when direct advice is not appropriate. If you want to make a suggestion, but do not want to be pushy, you can turn your advice into a question. (This also works when you don’t have the authority to insist.)
As an alternative, use ‘could’ or ‘would’ instead of ‘should’ or ‘must.’
A brief grammar explanation:
Questions need a helping verb before the main verb in almost every case. Often the auxiliary verb will be ‘do’ (or ‘does’ or ‘did’), followed by a verb in the base or infinitive form.
For perfect tenses, use ‘have’ (or ‘has’ ’or had’) and then a past participle. (Perfect tenses let you speak about something that began in the past and is continuing),
If something is going on right now or planned for the future, you might use a continuous tense. Then the helping verb is ‘be’ (‘is,’ ‘are,’ ‘was, or ‘were’) and the main verb will be in its –ing form.
These three verbs ('do', 'have', and 'be'), unlike modals, DO change form.
· “Don’t eat or drink anything after midnight. Your stomach needs to be empty for surgery. It’s a safety precaution.”
· “If you have a cold, don’t visit anyone in the hospital. It’s important to avoid introducing new germs to patients with low immunity.”
· “You must not stop taking this medication on your own. Call us right away if the side effects are bothering you and you want to discontinue it. We can arrange something else.”
· “Jim, you should never go from one patient’s room to another without changing gloves. We don’t want to spread an infection!”
· “You shouldn’t ever shout in the psych ward. Everyone’s nerves are on edge by the end of the day anyway.”
Remember to avoid double negatives in English. So, if you say ‘never,’ don’t also use ‘not.’ See Negative Sentences for a review of ways to make negative statements in English.
Practice Giving Advice continues this discussion. It gives ways to offer advice without using auxiliary verbs. Then there's a gap-fill exercise to practice different kinds of suggestions. Choose the appropriate helping verbs to complete the conversation between a discharge nurse and a patient.